(Descent blogs at http://jenneology.blogspot.com
Clarissa Estes in Women Who Run With the Wolves tells the story of Bluebeard and uses Jungian psychological analysis to draw a parallel between the character of Bluebeard and a common theme in women’s dreams–that of the dark man preying on them.
As I read her analysis, I recalled a vivid dream that I had of a man preying on me. It occurred within the last year after my feminist awakening and I became aware of the pitfalls of patriarchy in my church culture. While the patriarchy I most often experience is of the benevolent kind, this dream was my subconscious hitting against the more threatening aspects of a patriarchal church culture.
The dream took place in an LDS church building during an evening activity. The main group of people were in the chapel listening to the speaker. There were some men milling around the foyer talking. I began to sense that I was the only female in the chapel and it was a frightening realization to find that I was not wearing a baby at that moment. I often feel that babywearing is a protection to me as I feel that no man would attempt to assault me if I have a baby attached to me.
The bishop of one of the wards in the building caught me eye and I knew in that instant the malevolent look he was giving me. He started to advance to me and I began to walk away briskly. I began aware that he was actually herding me into a unpopulated area of the church towards a room where he could get me alone. I began to panic and quickly turned down another hallway that had an exit to the outside on it. As I was about to leave the church building, I found my anger and sense of injustice. I turned to face the bishop and defended myself. I ran back toward the men in the lobby, felt the grasping hands of the bishop on my clothes and my body. I yelled that the bishop was attacking me and saw the men run googly-eyed to the scene where I kicked and hit the bishop.
After the dream, I remember waking up feeling satisfied that I had defended myself and that I had it within me to stand and fight against the patriarchal grip symbolized by a man in power.
It was very interesting to read the Jungian analysis of my dream. Based on Dr. Estes description, my dream had all the elements of a dark man dream.
“Dreams are portals, entrances, preparations and practices for the next step in consciousness , the “next day” in the individuation process. So, a woman might have a dream of the predator when her psychic circumstances are too quiescent or complacent. We could say that this occurs in order to raise a storm in the psyche so that an energetic work can be done. But also a dream like this affirms that a woman’s life needs to change, that the woman dreamer has gotten caught in some hiatus ennui as regards a difficult choice, that she is reluctant to take the next step, go the next distance, that she is shying away from wresting her own power away from the predator, that she is not used to being/acting/striving at full bore, in all-out capacity.’
‘Additionally, dark man dreams are also wake-up calls. They say: Pay attention! Something has gone radically amiss in the outer world, in personal life, or in the outer collective culture.”
She continues to on to say that, “…when women dream of the natural predator, it is not always or solely a message about the interior life. Sometimes it is a message about the threatening aspects of the culture one lives in….We find this destructive process exacerbated when the culture surrounding the woman touts, nourishes and protects destructive attitudes toward the deep instinctual and soulful nature. Thus, these destructive cultural values–to which the predator avidly agrees–grow stronger within the collective psyche of all its members. When a society exhorts its people to be distrustful of and to shun the deep instinctual life, then an auto-predatory element in each individual psyche is strengthened and accelerated.”
The answer, then, is for the wild woman within to be allowed to recognize these cultural forces, ask the key questions regarding what is being lost to this cultural predation so she can then “take the world into one’s arms and act in a soul-filled and soul-strengthening manner.”
Perhaps my favorite line in her essay on the dark man is this:
Wild Woman teaches women when not to act ‘nice’ about protecting their soulful lives. The wildish nature knows that being ‘sweet’ in these instances will only make the predator smile.”
As it has been many months since this dream occurred, I can look back and see where I have let my Wild Woman instinct guide me–and how it has preserved for me some powerful moments. It was my Wild Woman that inspired finding analogous ceremonies to honor, bless and sustain myself and my daughters as females at various life stages. While the boys and men of the church receive their many honors, the wild woman within created these ceremonies outside of church culture, draws on traditions that are meaningful to me and not tainted by patriarchal culture. I found sisters who too accept their wild woman within and see the wild woman in our church mothers.
Even then, while I am pleased for this bastions in a time out of church culture, I know that the predator of patriarchy cannot be allowed to keep infiltrating the lives of LDS church members. There may be a time when the preying will cease and it begins with the bloggers, Sunday school attendees, Relief Society sisters, Young Women’s leaders and Primary teachers who are honest and bald-faced in the face of patriarchy, who recognize and see to minimize and where possible remove the patriarchal grip from the classes they teach and the audiences they reach.
There is an online book club being hosted for Women Who Run With the Wolves, or as my friends affectionately refer to as WWRWW (sounds like a growl), by a couple of Mormon feminist women. They have opened up the club to Mormon women and to those who are sympathetic to Mormon women to participate.